Domestic Violence Victims Suffer Enough: Don't Make Them Pay to Access Justice

From now until Human Rights Day on December 10th, people all over the world are being asked to by the UN Secretary-General to "Orange the World" to take part in #16days of activism to raise awareness of gender-based violence. 

Domestic violence is an issue which should concern us all. Of all women who were victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. One in three women around the world experience violence in their lifetime, often in the hands of someone they know, love and trust. And in England and Wales, on average two women every week are killed by by a partner of ex-partner.

These frightening statistics were brought home to me earlier this year, when Mike Kane MP invited me to visit the Safe Spots domestic violence support centre in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester. I spoke to several women at Safe Spots about their experience of domestic abuse.

One of the volunteers I met, Lisa, is herself a survivor. Lisa immediately struck me as a brave, decent and compassionate woman. So brave, in fact, that she agreed to come and share her story with us at the Labour Party Annual Conference.

I wasn't the only one fighting back tears as Lisa told how she had suffered at the hands of an abusive partner. A man who, at first, had seemed like the perfect match. But became controlling. Verbally abusive. Then physically violent. Lisa told us how he bullied her, beat her, broke her bones - even when carrying their unborn child.

Realising she faced a life or death decision, Lisa eventually plucked up the courage to leave. And it might not sound it. But Lisa is one of the lucky ones. She got out, and by getting involved with Safe Spots, has managed to turn her life around. It was Lisa who told me that some GPs are charging domestic violence victims up to £175 for a letter, which they need to produce as evidence to be able to access legal aid.

She told me that domestic violence victims are coming to Safe Spots for help, because they are being faced with an impossible choice: feed their family, or pay their GP for a letter. Lisa asked me to help, and that's how the Scrap the Fee campaign came about.

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The legal experts and campaigners we've spoken to agree - no GP should charge victims of domestic violence for a scrap of paper. So we're calling on the Government to take urgent action, and stop doctors from being able to charge domestic violence victims for a legal aid letter. 

Since we started Scrap the Fee back in September, thousands of have backed the campaign by signing our petition. It's even been discussed in the House of Lords. Now the Government is starting to listen, we need to keep up the pressure. So if you do just one thing on the International Day to End Violence against Women. Please, sign and share this petition.

>> Petition: Scrap the Fee for Domestic Violence Victims <<

Do it for Lisa. Do it for all the women suffering behind closed doors, who haven't yet managed to escape a violent partner. They deserve our help, our respect, and every ounce of compassion we can muster.